Sustainability and Business go hand in hand, is the new mantra of the corporate world. But when you are in a natural resource (water and cash crops) intensive industry, this mission requires a strong commitment and focus in driving change.
Inesh Singh, our next pathbreaker, Sustainability Manager at Anheuser-Busch InBev, manages the India sustainability program, working with farmers to help produce the right quality of barley for Beer production with a focus on managing water usage, carbon emissions, waste recycling and smart agriculture.
Inesh talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his MBA internship at PepsiCo that opened his eyes to the multi-disciplinary nature of Sustainability in business.
For students, if you want nature to remain pristine and intact, help organizations achieve their profits keeping an eye on sustainability.
Inesh, tell us about your background?
I grew up in the small city of Hisar, Haryana and opted for a non-medical background in high school. I participated in sports and extra-curricular activities like debates, group discussions etc. I enjoyed reading as well and over time developed a good collection of books at home.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
I did my B.Tech (Mechanical) from Symbiosis Institute of Technology followed by Post graduation ( MBA, Finance) from The George Washington University – School of Business
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and exciting career?
I worked in the energy sector post graduating from college. I was working with coal power plants and frequent visits to project sites made me realize the harm that dirty energy was causing to the environment. That led me to develop a keen interest in renewable energy, and I decided to pursue a MBA in finance to develop my business skills so I could develop a career in the sector. However, during my MBA I got an internship at PepsiCo which allowed me to work on sustainability in general instead of focusing on one particular subject area, and I enjoyed it so much that I have continued in the sector ever since.
How did you plan the steps to get into the career you wanted? Or how did you make a transition to a new career? Tell us about your career path
I understood that the financial aspect goes hand in hand with engineering to drive sustainability projects. I had the engineering knowledge from my undergrad and work experience post college, but I knew that I would need to develop my business and finance skills to successfully pursue a career in sustainability. That’s why I went for a MBA in finance at George Washington University (GWU).
I interned part-time at a DC based sustainability consulting firms during my first year of MBA and did a year long internship at PepsiCo during the second year.
My internship at GWU was my first immersion in sustainability. I built a tool to evaluate financial feasibility of solar projects and did an in-depth analysis of all commercial and residential buildings in Washington DC to identify potential consumers for solar and water projects. I was also able to contribute to a published handbook “Catalyzing community solar: A handbook for Municipalities”.
I actively participated in student groups and special projects in sustainability. I was the president of the energy club at the George Washington University, and also contributed successfully on a handbook on community solar that has been published the university.
At PepsiCo, when I started my internship, I had the opportunity to be involved in driving sustainability at the manufacturing plant level by doing sustainability audits and identifying areas of improvement from a resource conservation perspective at the plant level. I was then transferred to the Global Office of Sustainability where my work was focused on sustainability reporting, developing governance policies for PepsiCo’s Sustainability goals (Performance with Purpose (PwP) 2025 program) and helping setup data infrastructure for data collection + validation of multiple sustainability goals (wastewater, WASH, GHG Scope 3, food waste and watershed replenishment goals).
My next role at Sula was focused on developing a sustainability program which would help the company become Asia’s most sustainable winery by 2021 as well as driving a culture of sustainability at all levels within the organization. I developed the Sustainable Sula Initiative 2021 with the same goals in mind, and was able to lead publication of Sula’s first sustainability report during my time there. (https://sulawines.com/DataFiles/AdditionalFiles/144965Sula%20Sustainability%20Report.pdf)
At Sula, i led projects to reduce energy consumption, increase waste recycling and drive water reuse by implementing firm wide initiatives and building long term strategic partnerships.
How did you get your first break?
The summer internship at PepsiCo was my first break. I got it by applying through the Environment Defense Fellow (EDF) program during my MBA in the US. The program helps match students interested in working in sustainability to organizations which have sustainability internships, and I was able to join the PepsiCo team via the program.
What were the challenges? How did you address them?
Challenge 1: Understanding the food and beverage industry, especially how the manufacturing plants operate. I went with the team for multiple site audits to increase my learning of the operations.
Where do you work now? Tell us about your work
When I started at AB InBev I was managing the sustainability program which was focused on driving watershed interventions, reducing carbon emissions, increasing recyclable packaging. Now as Manager of the Agro Development team my work is focused on working with farmers to help produce the right quality of barley which can be used for brewing our great beers. I manage the India sustainability program, and my work is focused on: increasing water availability, reducing carbon emissions, reducing waste and driving smart agriculture. The job needs expertise in the sustainability domain with knowledge of the key pillars of water, carbon, agro and waste. It also needs expertise in project and program management + strategy. My work in the energy sectors, and in various domains of sustainability over time has enabled me to develop the skills needed for the role. There is no typical day. The scope of the role is so big that every day is a new challenge. A workday involves a lot of meetings with both internal and external stakeholders to get an overview of the projects in motion, developing and driving discussions on strategy, and doing some research to identify innovations that can be implemented.
The positive impact that I am able to have on communities and the planet is a great source of motivation.
How does your work benefit the society?
My work benefits the society by increasing the availability of water, reducing waste, and reducing carbon emissions.
Sustainability, when done the right way, can help build a deep connect with the customers. Nowadays consumers are more aware and want to purchase commodities from brands which are environmentally conscious. Being a sustainable organization is not only a USP, it also helps brands be a good fit for the modern consumer and increases brand loyalty. Consumers nowadays are also willing to pay more for sustainable products, so companies are oftentimes able to charge a premium for sustainable offerings which in turn has a positive impact on the bottom line. My role has historically been focused on ensuring the organization has the right vision and program to transition to being a sustainable company, as well as ensuring that the transition happens in a way in which it makes business sense for the organization to do so.
Tell us an example of a specific work you did that is very close to you!
I developed the strategy for watershed intervention at ABI’s high water risk sites which will help measurably improve the water availability for communities located in and around the areas. Beer making is a water intensive industry and ABI does have strong commitments to drive water security in the areas where we operate, and I do feel proud that I was able to contribute in this area.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
Work hard and dream big. I come from a small city and have achieved way more than I ever thought I could. There is nothing holding you back…just stay humble, keep focused, set targets, and work hard and smart to achieve them. Nothing is impossible.
I will soon be transitioning to a new role in the organization as part of which I will be leading the Agro Development program at the company. The role will allow me to develop leadership skills with a focus on managing big teams which will enable me to grow and take on senior positions in the organization.